He Can’t Coach Forever
How many times has this list been contemplated? Over the last few years, I’ve seen a few. But now that Nick Saban is officially over 70 years old, this really becomes more relevant than ever. Even though Lane hinted that he will "coach forever", despite the fact that Jimbo alluded to him being ”God”, we all know that it will come to an end at some point. Just who replaces him has a lot to do with when he calls it a day. Having lived in the state of Alabama my entire adult life, I definitely know a little about how some will go about trying to select a replacement. UA will do what they’ve done in the past following a legend, they will first try to hire someone closely associated with him, much the way they did after Bryant. Let’s jump into this list.
”Nick Saban will coach forever, double his championships” -Lane Kiffin
#5 Lane Kiffin
I have to put Lane on this list, even though it doesn’t seem much like an Alabama-type move. I think Lane is much too colorful of a character in his everyday activities. But still, there is that reasonable chance that Lane’s coaching record (41-21) in the last 5 seasons in particular. His connection to Nick and Alabama (‘14-’16), even though there have been numerous rumors about him leaving on bad terms, could still help him onto their radar. I don’t give this a high probability if Nick leaves today, but that probably could change in the next 5 years or so. Nick may even have a part in the process of selecting his successor. And even though we can’t be totally sure what that would do to Lane’s chances. I would give him a 10% chance of getting the job if Nick retired today.
#4 Bill O'Brien
Let me start out by saying that I think it would be a mistake for Alabama to hire O’Brien, but I give him a better shot at getting the job today than Lane Kiffin. O’Brien has a satisfactory college resume (15-9, 2 seasons at Penn State) but it’s very incomplete as a head coach. I think the circumstances at Penn State at the time that he coached there definitely helps his case. His NFL record is bittersweet though. The 4 division titles are a plus, but the 2-4 post-season record does not inspire a lot of confidence…especially when you consider the talent that he had at Houston. I think he definitely has the temperament for coaching an elite program, but I don’t think that he would have the type of success early on to appease the fans and boosters. I would give him a 15% chance of getting the job today.
#3 Matt Rhule
No Nick Saban connections, so there is that. But if Nick retired today, I’d have Rhule pretty high on the list. I don’t know how well this situation will age though. I don’t know how any elite program would leave Rhule out in a coaching search at this moment. Sure… he hasn’t done very well in the NFL, and neither did Saban. What he did do in the college ranks though, is all he needs on his resume for an FBS job at a big-time program. First off, he took over a bad Temple team in 2013 and turned them into a consecutive 10-win team (‘15 & ‘16). Just 4 years in and the bigger programs were calling. He bolted for Waco to coach the Baylor Bears at the end of the 2016 season. In just 3 seasons, he turned them from 1-11 to 11-1 and a NY6 Bowl appearance. I would give him a 20% chance at getting the Alabama job if Nick retired today.
#2 Dabo Swinney
I would have had Dabo at the top of my list 3 seasons ago, but today I’m reluctant to do that. My issue with him is his stance on the immovable college football mainstays of the transfer portal and the NIL. Sure, there may be some changes made, but these things are not going away. Will he adapt? He’ll have to in order to survive in a major college football program. No need to talk about his qualifications or his record, he’s got an impressive list. The biggest question I have is… What will he do without Brent Venables? We will find out very soon, I suspect he will handle it. I don’t think it would be an issue at Alabama if they were hiring a coach today though, because he would have the resources to hire whoever he wanted to coach his defense. I would give Dabo a 30% chance of getting the Alabama job today.
#1 Luke Fickell
Yes, Luke Fickell! He is the most underrated coach in college football today. If he can win big at Cincy, he would win big at Alabama. There is no question in my mind that the guy could handle the job. There’s no doubt in my mind that he would definitely take the job. Would Alabama be interested in Fickell? Without a doubt. His Cincinnati record by itself should have him on any major program’s shortlist. If Bama wants a coach that has the potential to be on that Nick Saban level, Fickell is definitely your safest bet. I know, he has no Saban ties. And that might be an issue if Nick ended up being part of the selection process, but I don’t know that he will. I’d give him a 35% chance of getting the Alabama job, if Nick were to retire today. His stock will only rise moving forward.
I’m not ready to go as far as Kiffin, but I’m also not ready to say that Nick is on the doorstep of retirement either. He could be, but I seriously doubt it. The problem is, when you’re talking about someone who is 70…. things have a way of changing from one day to the next. That’s why no one should think that he is definitely going to be there till some specific time. Will, he keeps winning at the level that he is now? I don’t know that it’s even an important question. Like Bobby Bowden, he will get to coach as long as he wants to coach. Moving forward, there are other coaches who will likely be on this top 5 list. I suspect that Mario Cristobal, Billy Napier, and maybe even Mike Locksley could be on this short list in the future. But as far as Nick Saban’s future, we just don’t know. I’m willing to bet that he will be there for another 5 seasons, but I’m not willing to make a call after that point.